Exploring Rangitoto on a day trip

Things to do in Rangitoto Island on a day trip

Rangitoto Island, well-known by Aucklanders as the volcano that chills out at the edge of the city, makes a great day trip from New Zealand’s largest city. At only 600 years old, Rangitoto is also the youngest of Auckland’s volcanoes. Aww, such a baby – cute, right? 

Although Rangitoto is also the largest of these volcanoes, once you’ve arrived at the island it only takes an hour to walk up to the summit. It’s worth setting aside half a day to properly explore Rangitoto, with a detour to the lava caves being a must-do on the hike up.

Aside from enjoying the walking trails, Rangitoto is also a great spot for kayaking, camping or spotting the native flora and birds. 

It’s important to catch the last ferry back to Auckland since otherwise you would end up getting stranded overnight or getting a very expensive personal boat ride! Currently, the last ferry to Rangitoto is at 3:30pm. I have more details on how to reach Rangitoto from Auckland at the bottom of this post.

For this reason, I recommend not overfilling your itinerary. I recommend my preferred one-day Rangitoto itinerary below, but will give some alternative suggestions if you’re going back to Rangitito for the second time and are after some new things to do there.

Best things to do in Rangitoto in one day

Rangitoto Summit Walk

The main reason people visit Rangitoto Island is to take the walk up to Rangitoto Summit.

On the way to the Summit Lookout you will also see the Crater Lookout, where you can look into the overgrown crater of Rangitoto volcano. From here, you can walk 2 minutes to the summit, or do the longer 20-minute Crater Rim Loop Track before reaching the top. Personally, I headed straight to the summit after enjoying the crater view. 

The Summit Lookout, at 230m high, has incredible views back over Auckland city and beyond. This panorama is a great way to view the location of Auckland in comparison to the stunning nature around it, especially if you’re newly local here. You won’t forget the views of the Hauraki Gulf anytime soon.

Lava Caves

If you take the main climb up to the summit – the summit track – you’ll see the signpost to the Lava Caves. It takes 15-minutes to reach the caves from here, making it a 30-minute detour. In my opinion, it’s well worth it since the caves were my favourite thing to do in Rangitoto.

The first caves you see are quite small and twisted trees block their mysterious entrances.

Continue to walk for another 5-10 minutes until you reach the main lava cave. (Follow the wooden arrows to find it.) The lava tubes were left from hot liquid lava that had cooled upon reaching the surface. It might only take a few minutes to walk through the largest cave tunnel here, but it’s well-worth it. Bring a torch (or your phone flashlight if you’ve got a steady hand) since it’s understandably dark inside! 

From here, you can continue heading up to the summit.  

Mackenzie Bay & Lighthouse

I enjoyed the walk down from the Summit Lookout to Mackenzie Bay through the overgrown leafy pathway that somehow provided shade despite the lava rocks below. Soon, I was back to a path that was flanked by the grey lumps of lava rocks. Rangitoto is actually home to the world’s largest pōhutukawa forest, which protects many endangered birds native to New Zealand.

Mackenzie Bay is a small bay overlooking the city but I particularly enjoyed seeing the candy striped Beacon Lighthouse.

From here, there are views of the coast and Auckland to the right but the path does get a bit samey as you approach your return to the ferry wharf but there are a couple of things to lookout for. Firstly, the black back colony at Flax Point is the largest colony of this species in New Zealand. They breed from October to late January but although I visited during this time, I personally did not take the detour to the best viewing spot. Secondly, the Causeway section of the path, with stunning blue waters on either side, is a lovely sight and great indicator that you’re almost back at the wharf. 

Please note that the Mackenzie Bay & Lighthouse detour adds an extra 2.5 hour hike to your journey…

Although the first section is completely downhill and the majority is flat and well-maintained, if you are a slow walker (or simply not a hiking fan), I recommend going back down the summit track. From the wharf, you can either take the next ferry or – even better – spend some time enjoying the Historic Baches, Kowhai Grove, and possible detour to Kidney Fern Glen. All these activities begin near the ferry wharf! Or just relax with a picnic and taking a dip in the saltwater pool…

The Historic Baches

I enjoyed seeing the historic bach, with their charming painted wooden exteriors, though I’m sure they were less interesting to my local kiwi friend. Bach 38 Museum, first photo below, was built in 1927 for Walter Pooley and restored since.

These small holiday homes, that may resemble cute beach houses depending on where your from, are called ‘baches’ in New Zealand. As many as 60 were built on Rangitoto despite it being a public domain in the 1920s and over 140 by 1940! Many have been demolished now, so it’s nice that a few are kept up so we can still see them today!

Kowhai Grove and Kidney Fern Glen

There are forty different species of fern on Rangitoto, a haven for native flora and fauna including the delicate Kidney Fern variety. Since Kidney Fern Glen is a 40-minute return walk, I wasn’t able to see it on my trip.

In the Kowhai Grove, 45-minute return for the full track, you can see the Kowhai trees which bloom with yellow plants in the spring and summer.

Saltwater swimming pool and Mangrove Boardwalk

Next to Rangitoto Ferry Wharf, there is an idyllic saltwater pool. These historic pools have been on the island for almost a century and fill naturally with seawater at high tide. It was built by prisoners in the 1930s and has been recently repaired.

The mangrove boardwalk begins next to the pool and leads you through the low mangroves. In the distance, you can see the coastline and another historic bach! The boardwalk is very brief – say 50m long (I’m terrible with distances, so do forgive me if I’m totally out).

Best alternative activities for a second trip to Rangitoto Island:

Shipwreck Graveyard & Boulder Bay

To take the Boulder Bay Track and visit the old shipwreck site at the end, you have to visit at low tide. For this reason, it’s recommended you take a ferry to Islington Bay Wharf so you make it in time. The vessels in the bay are dated from 1887 – 1946.

This trip is harder to arrange since the main ferry service goes into Rangitoto ferry wharf, and not Islington Bay Wharf. For this reason, I haven’t yet visited this spot! 

Coastal Track & Controlled Mine Base

The coastal walk is a 2.5 hour walk from the Rangitoto ferry wharf to the Islington Bay Wharf. On the way, you can spot historic bach houses and take a small detour to the Controlled Mine Base which is a WWII military site. 

Motutapu Island

From the Islington Bay Wharf, you can actually cross the Motutapu Causeway to continue your walk. There are more hiking opportunities, and wonderful views, on Motutapu itself, which are worth considering if you want to visit some Auckland hidden gems. You can take a ferry directly from Auckland to Home Bay Wharf on Motutapu itself.

How to get to Rangitoto Island

The best way to get from Auckland to Rangitoto is to take the ferry from Britomart Ferry Terminal on 99 Quay Street. You can also take a ferry directly from Devonport Ferry Wharf. 

The ferry takes approximately 25-minutes.

Arrive at the ferry wharf in Auckland 15-minutes early, so you have time to get tickets checked and to clean your boots. Rangitoto is a pest-free zone and it’s important to stick to the tracks.

Ferry from Auckland to Rangitoto: 

9:15 – everyday

10:30 – everyday, does not stop at Devonport

12:15 – everyday

13:30 – weekends only, does not stop at Devonport 

Ferry from Rangitoto to Auckland

12:45 – everyday

14:30 – everyday, does not stop at Devonport

15:30 – Mon-Friday only

16:00 – weekends only

If you want to do more than the summit track, I highly recommend taking the 09:30 ferry and returning on the 14:30 ferry. Aiming for the second to last ferry means it’s not a disaster if you miss it!

What to take on a Rangitoto day trip:

You must take

  • Your ferry ticket! You can get this ready on your phone if you bought it online in advance.
  • Good walking shoes (even if you’re a steady walker, the ground has lots of small rocks in certain sections)
  • Water and snacks/a picnic lunch – there is no cafe or shop on Rangitoto island!
  • Sunblock (and a sunhat if visiting in Summer)
  • A rain jacket or hoodie since the weather in Auckland changes quickly (and warm layers if visiting in Winter)
  • A charged phone (so you can check the time for the return ferry)

Optional

  • A torch (if you’re visiting the lava caves)
  • Swimmers and a towel for the saltwater pool
  • A camera 
  • A map – the main summit trail is well-signposted but this is recommended to check the location of bach houses and detours etc
  • A small bag for rubbish if you don’t want to stick it in your bag…

I hope you enjoy your day trip to Rangitoto! Let me know if you’ve visited and what your favourite activity was.

More of my favourite Auckland Day trips:

PIHA

MANGAWHAI

HAMILTON & RAGLAN

THE COROMANDEL PENINSULA

25 Comments

  1. That tip to catch the last ferry is really a important and helpful one. I haven’t been to any volcano yet, so this sounds very exciting to me, especially the caves. Long time since I hiked, your post is urging me to go out now.

  2. I wouldn’t have thought there would be so much to do! And I have literally never heard of a bach, they kinda look like the style of “tiny homes” that are becoming popular in the USA haha. I think I’d really want to check out the lava caves!

  3. I would definitely want to visit the volcano that chills at the edge of Auckland. And if it only takes an hour, I would definitely hike up to the summit on Rangitoto Island. That view from the top would definitely be worth it. Good to know there are different paths to hike on the island. But I would make sure not to miss the ferry and have an expensive boat ride back!

    1. Yesss not missing that Rangitoto ferry is definitely an important one haha! But so many trails to do there and definitely worth visiting the caves on the way up to the summit too!

  4. I never been to New Zealand but I am a hiker (not an extreme one mind you) and I would love to check out Rangitoto Island. Most of the walk looks easy for me to do (well, thats the younger me saying that in my head…need to get fit again). Would love to check out those lava caves as well, but walking through the greenery of the forest and taking in the ocean views has sold it for me. Great post Cassie.

  5. Wow the landscape here looks absolutely mystical! I would so love to explore this place 🙂 Great post Cass and your photos are stunning!

  6. I wonder why the last ferry leaves so early. It seems like there is so much to do that it would be good to have more time. I love volcanic things, so would love to make it to this island. The lighthouse is adorable too. They should stripe more of them around the world.

  7. Oooh gorgeous! Fab post Cassie!
    I love the idea of attempting the Rangitoto Summit Walk and seeing those lava caves!

    I have to admit, it blew my mind a bit when I first found out how many volcanoes there are in Auckland – but I love the volcanic scenery (and possibility of hot springs!)

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